Did you know that cooking with the wrong oil can actually be damaging to your health?
Yep, I would say that the majority of people are unaware that how you choose and treat your oil can make a big impact on your health. Oils are composed of a delicate structure, which can easily be damaged by light, heat and oxygen exposure. As a result, they can become oxidized. Oxidized oils are essentially “rancid,” which cause them to be very harmful to your body. That is why we are going to talk about the healthiest oils to cook with.
Oxidized oils act as free radicals in the body, which are unstable molecules that “attack” other molecules in the body. Without proper antioxidants, this process can lead to extreme cell damage especially to the DNA of the cells. Free radical destruction is thought to be a major cause in all diseases including heart disease as well as a culprit in cancer and the aging process. That is why you hear how important it is to include antioxidants in your diet. While we will definitely focus on including antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Resveratrol and Turmeric in our diets, lets see how we can reduce free radical exposure by making better choices.
How are Oils Extracted?
Oils are categorized into two categories: refined and unrefined. The first step is to remove the oil from the fruit, seed, nut or grain source. Then the oil is heated by pressure to extract the oil. Depending on how hot the extraction process is, dictates whether the oil is damaged or not. Temperatures around 120-160 degrees is the temperature range where the oils stay in the best condition and retain the highest levels of nutrients.
Expeller Pressed vs. Cold Pressed
Expeller pressing is a chemical-free mechanical extraction process. This process is an alternative to the toxic hexane extraction processed used in most conventional practices. While there is no external heat applied to this extraction process, the heat levels can vary depending on the substance, meaning heat levels can reach high levels.
Cold Pressed extraction is the same process of expeller pressed extraction, but it is done in a controlled environment to keep temperatures below 120 degrees. This process is often used for more delicate oils in order to retain their flavor and is the healthiest method available. Note: the only oils commercially processed in this manner are olive oil, peanut oil and sesame oil.
Refined vs. Unrefined
Refined oils are extracted by the use of toxic solvents such as hexane, and then it are bleached and deodorized. These oils have a higher smoke point but contain toxic residues from the process. The nutrients including Vitamin E are damaged throughout the refining process.
Unrefined oils are processed by cold-pressed or expeller-pressed methods and left in their virgin state after processing. These oils are more delicate than refined oils and have higher levels of nutrients present.
What Oil to Choose?
When choosing oil, we are not only looking for oil for its taste profile but also for its nutrient value. One thing we must look at is how the oil is made and packaged. Many oils on the market have been highly processed meaning they have been highly heated, extracted with hexane solvents and then treated with de-gummers and deodorizers. This leaves the oil to be extremely toxic, rancid and therefore, a potential culprit of free radicals. So what is the healthiest oil to cook with? This would a an unrefined, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oil that has been derived from non-GMO, non-pesticided crops.
The Processed, Toxic Oils Include:
Canola Oil– canola oil is a hybrid derived from rapeseed and probably one of the biggest misconception in the health food industry. You will see this oil marketed as a “heart-healthy” choice in many health food stores, including Whole Foods, but it is anything but. Canola oil is a GMO crop that is highly sprayed with pesticides. It is highly heated, extracted by using a petroleum based solvent, hexane; then bleached, and deodorized. This oil is most likely no healthier than a trans fat.
The Unrefined, Healthy Oils Include:
Flax Seed Oil
Macadamia Nut Oil
* Tend to be processed using toxic practices, so be wary when purchasing.
BTW: I left Palm oil off the list because its production causes detrimental environmental effects.
Oil Bottling and Storage
The second thing to watch out for are oils that are packaged in light bottles. Believe it or not, many companies make a beautiful unrefined expeller- pressed oil and then package in a light bottle. What are they thinking? Light bottles allow light to come into contact with the delicate oil, which can lead to oxidation. And remember, oxidation leads to free radicals. Therefore, when looking for the healthiest oil to cook with are always going to purchase oil packaged in dark bottles (except for coconut oil- this is a more stable oil) and we will store them in a cool dark place.
Cooking with the Right Oil
Like mentioned before, cooking with certain oils can actually cause oxidation which can lead to free radicals from consumption. Therefore, it is vital that we choose the right oil for the type of cooking method that we are employing. Our choice is going to be based on the smoke point of the oil. The following is a guide to help you choose the right oil for the dish that you are making.
The Smoking Points of Oils
Below 212° F- Use: Boiling, Steaming, Simmering, Dressing or Finishing
Flax seed Oil, Unrefined Sunflower oil, Unrefined Safflower oil, Cold-Pressed Macadamia Nut, EFA oil, Truffle Oil, Unrefined Hazelnut, Pistachio Oil
Below 320° F- Use: Light Sauté, Low-heat Baking, Pressure Cooking
Unrefined Walnut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Hemp Seed Oil
Below 350° F- Sauté, Stir-Fry, Wok
Unrefined Sesame Oil, Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil
Below 430º F- Baking, Searing
Ghee, Extra Light Olive Oil, Hazelnut Oil
*Below 500º F- Frying, Baking
Unrefined Avocado Oil, Expeller Pressed Grapeseed Oil, Refined Oils, Mustard Oil**
* I do not recommend cooking on this high of heat, this is extremely damaging to the nutrients and creates toxins
** It is not legal to sell mustard oil in the US for food use because it contains 20 to 40% erucic acid, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limit is about 3% (erucic acid has been shown to cause cancer in rats). There are debates to the health benefits and risks about mustard oil, with more studies needed to confirm either way. Learn more here.
Final Tidbit: You will notice that I have mentioned that Vitamin E is present in oil, this is a key fact because Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects against free radicals and most importantly prevents lipids in the body from damage. This is vital for all cell membranes and for cardiovascular protection. I get my Vitamin E from a Stabilized Rice Bran Powder called Tocotrienols.